Hello everyone! Usually I’m talk about Hearthstone but last weekend was GP Portland and I wanted to share my experiences and talk a little about my deck choice and the metagame.
First, the elephants in the room are obviously the energy decks (4-color, Temur, or Sultai) followed by mono red aggro of some flavor. I almost never play the top meta decks because…well just because. I don’t really have a good reason for it other than that I prefer to attack the top tier decks rather than play them which probably leads to overall poorer results (but results in much more enjoyment for me). All of those things led me to testing out a sweet blue-white Drake Haven deck for a couple weeks before deciding that I didn’t like how games played post sideboarding. After watching the GP results from the previous week plus a bunch of testing on MTGO, I finally settled on an energy deck in the form of blue green Pummeler. Here’s the list I ran:
This deck is quite fun and surprisingly complex to play. It was nice playing a deck that can randomly get free wins: an unanswered Pummeler is usually 20+ damage on the spot, and Longtusk Cub can snowball games completely out of control as early as turn three. The issue I had was this cuts both ways: you’ve invested so many card slots into your own game plan that you have no cards that can disrupt your opponent’s plan in the maindeck.
Games with Temur tended to be cat fights where whomever can start swinging with their Longtusk Cub first gains a huge advantage. I chose to play one Greenbelt Rampager because I wanted another creature I could play on turn 2 against red and mardu, and I went with a 1-of Heroic Intervention in the maindeck instead of a second Dive Down because A) I love the card and B) I like having similar effects that are generally roughly the same but can be extremely more powerful in some situations. I was also generally unhappy with the second Dive Down and tested cutting it entirely but the 6th hexproof effect turned out to be rather important.
Being able to rebuild after a Settle the Wreckage with a Pummeler and holding up Heroic Intervention for a Fumigate was a nice plus as well and I got a few free wins during testing from that exact sequence. At the last minute before submitting I tried swapping the sideboard Swamp and Cartouches for a Mountain and Chandra’s Defeats because I was losing to Glorybringers and Rampaging Ferocidons but it turned out that Chandra’s Defeat wasn’t as good as I expected vs Temur so I left it as is.
My Grand Prix main event matches were somewhat anticlimactic. I felt like Pummeler was a good deck to bring (and a red-green Pummeler deck made the top 8 so maybe I wasn’t too far off) but I misplayed pretty badly vs a Temur player and an esper Gift player, one to lose game 3 and one to not give my opponent a chance to make a mistake in game 1, and also played vs FOUR Walking Ballista decks (three sultai energy and one black green Constrictor deck). While I was able to pull out a win in three of those matches the third sultai was just a little too much to handle and I died at 5-3. I played round 9 for giggles and pummeled my temur opponent in two games, then conceded before damage so my opponent could play in day 2 while I went to register for the morning sealed PTQ.
The PTQ was interesting. 8 rounds plus a top 8 draft meant a reeeeeeally long day of Magic. Sealed usually isn’t my favorite format because what you open can control so much of your tournament destiny (like my opponent in a PPTQ that opened *two* Scarab Gods…) but it is an inherently fair format and I still have fun. I was fortunate in getting a solid sealed pool of red green dinosaurs albeit with zero actual dinosaur synergies. Once I realized I didn’t actually need dinosaurs, I made a decision to play Rigging Runner to make my Pirate’s Cutlass and Headstrong Brute a little bit better and left a pair of Frenzied Raptors in the sideboard.
As it turns out I think it was a mistake not to play the raptors since I was already running a Cobbled Wings and multiple combat tricks that take advantage of high power (via either trample or first strike) and I should have cut Sun Crowned Hunter and another card to make space for the 4/2s. The only other decision I made was playing Wildgrowth Walker over a second Ixalli’s Keeper with only two explore creatures. I feel like the upside is worth it even if you only have a few explore effects and the 1/3 body is still comparable to a 2/2. Plus, my pool was a fairly strong aggro midrange piece with a Burning Sun’s Avatar and Charging Monstrosaur and having something that could block a 2/1 favorably felt important. The swiss matches weren’t super memorable overall though most of the matches were fairly close. I was able to leverage a solid aggressive curve with combat tricks and large monsters to 7-1 and the #2 seed in the top 8 draft.
The top 8 draft was one of the more interesting ones I’ve been in. I opened a pack with River’s Rebuke, Shapers of Nature, One with the Wind, and multiple other playable merfolk. I took the Upheaval effect, looking to go into red blue or black blue and hoping all the people downstream would jump into merfolk. I second picked Watertrap Weaver out of a weakish pack, passing an Unfriendly Fire and a Skullduggery as the only notable card, then got passed a pack with Merfolk Branchwalker and Tempest Caller. Merfolk Branchwalker is a very powerful card and if possible I would like to be in merfolk (hopefully one of the ones from my opening pack would wheel). Tempest Caller is also a powerful card and I’ve already got two blue cards, but it’s not really an effect I need since I already have the Rebuke. I figured if I ended up in merfolk I would miss the Branchwalker more than I would miss the Tempest Caller if I ended up in pirates so I took the green card. I felt immediately rewarded when I got passed a Tishana’s Wayfinder, but then got a pack that was almost completely empty. My choices were Mark of the Vampire and Run Aground. I’m not a huge fan of Run Aground as it’s kind of slow and I never really want more than one in any deck. Mark is one of the better ways to give your medium to large creature pants, and it seemed like black might be open so I hedged. I got a gift 6th pick Wildgrowth Walker, then took a Depths of Desire, and a speculative 8th pick Lurking Chupacabra. My wheel gave me *zero* of the four merfolk cards, and at that point I wasn’t sure what direction I was going, but I thought black and green were both relatively open from my right. I picked up a Colossal Dreadmaw and a Commune with Dinosaurs to round out the pack.
Pack 2 I had to make a pretty big decision: I opened Carnage Tyrant, which is one of the more absurd cards in the set. There was also a Lurking Chupacabra in the pack. I strongly felt that my deck would go towards the black green explore archetype and I already had two payoff cards, but the Tyrant is also a huge bomb. I took the Tyrant because I had a Mark already and I thought there was a strong chance the Chupacabra would wheel. It felt like black was open but the packs were kind of weak and getting to take both of the best cards in the pack for my deck would be a huge coup. I got passed a couple more explore creatures including another Tishana’s Wayfinder and a Seekers’ Squire plus a very late Pounce but I was still sweating bullets while squeezing out my wheel. I guess I didn’t have much to worry about since the other black playables were still there too, but I still had fireworks going off in my head when I got to wheel the Chupacabra. I also picked up a late Queen’s Agent to add another explore creature.
My pack 3 was…actually awful. I had two Sunrise Seekers from the previous packs but was obviously in black green. There was an Unknown Shores in the pack but literally zero black or green cards that I could reasonable play maindeck. I opted to take a Pious Interdiction as I was light on removal and if I had to splash white for more explore creatures I would be able to add the powerful removal enchantment as well. My second pick was a second Wildgrowth Walker which set me to taking any explore creature over anything else I could get passed. When I’ve drafted these types of decks before, I usually don’t have the problem of finding the payoffs but I have trouble getting enough of the explore creatures. The explorers are all reasonably high picks, and it can be difficult finding enough of them. I was happy enough to take a Dire Fleet interloper over a Verdant Rebirth as I just needed to add to my explore count. Now that I was at 6 explore creatures at least my payoff cards would be reasonably good, and if I had to I could also splash the pair of Sunrise Seekers. My next two picks were enough to give me nightmare flashbacks to all my failed explore drafts, as I was forced to take a Skittering Heartstopper and a Crushing Canopy as the only cards in my colors, and I was resigning myself to having 20 playables in 3 colors and having maindeck cards like Duress and Crushing Canopy when I got passed back to back 7th and 8th pick Tishana’s Wayfinders which basically saved my draft. I was even more ecstatic to see that the Dark Nourishment AND the Vanquish the Weak from the Wildgrowth Walker pack had wheeled! I snapped up the Vanquish and did a happy dance when the Verdant Rebirth also wheeled. My deck looked absurd in my head. Here’s the list I registered
2 Skittering Heartstopper
2 Wildgrowth Wanderer
1 Merfolk Branchwalker
1 Ixalli’s Keeper
1 Seekers’ Squire
4 Tishana’s Wayfinder
1 Skymarch Bloodletter
2 Lurking Chupacabra
1 Queen’s Agent
1 Colossal Dreadmaw
1 Carnage Tyrant
My top 8 games were not very close; my deck was absurd. The closest match I had was in the top 8 where my opponent had a very aggressive blue red deck with two One with the Wind. He drew both of them in both the first two games and managed take game 2, but a pair of 4/6 Wildgrowth Walkers plus some timely combat tricks managed to give me game 3. The semifinals was against a black white vampires deck and my opponent had no way to stop any of my engine pieces. The finals was against a multicolor blue red base treasure deck, and after easily taking game 1 on the back of Carnage Tyrant, I had the awkward board of double Wildgrowth Wanderer and double Chupacabra in play with no explores while he attacked me down to 6 life with a 4/3 and small fliers. I eventually drew into explore creatures which found me more explore creatures and was able to control the game from there. I ended the game at 22 life. It feels great to be able to finally take home a qualification for the Pro Tour.